Pottery

A year ago today, I posted about grief on the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death. My family received many of the blessings below and today felt like the right time to share that post again. The current list starts with one very important addition that someone shared in the comments of the original post. I’d love your help in making this list even better. Please share your thoughts if you see something missing. There will never be a shortage of grieving souls to serve.

5 Ways to Serve a Grieving Soul

  1. Allow them to grieve on their own terms. As one reader explained, “There is no set time frame when someone should no longer grieve. There is no specific way. It is important to listen and respect their grief process.” I’d also add to not try to make their grief process look like your own. What worked for you, may not work for them.
  2. Fill in the gaps of their life. Picture the person grieving as a large rock in a glass jar. The glass jar represents their life before the loss. The people that are supporting them during the initial phase of loss (before and directly after the funeral) are the sand that will be poured in the jar until it is full. This image is important because it will help guide you on how to serve them. They will need help with basic tasks like having meals available, getting space to rest appropriately, and handling a number of routine chores that inevitably seem hard to focus on. An example of this would be to make sure any pets they might have are taken care of or filling their prescriptions. Look for gaps and fill them in. It is likely you will have to identify and suggest the areas to serve for them. At this stage, they may be too numb and detached to ask for help.
  3. Help them re-frame what “doing better” looks like. As the grief process moves along, the intense periods of sadness and despair tend to become less frequent but the intensity of the grief (once it reappears) can be the same or stronger. This can be alarming to the person in grief as they “thought they were getting better.” Be there to remind them that these episodes of intense sadness are normal and that longer time between episodes is a sign they are “getting better”.
  4. Share your joy. It is a human instinct to heal the soul. Grieving people aren’t sad by choice; they want to feel better. Don’t be afraid to share happy stories or engage them in fun activities. Check in to make sure you are doing that respectfully and on a pace they feel comfortable with, but actively try to show them the counterpoint to grief. Love and enjoy them.
  5. Commit to a longer healing process. You never get over losing a person you love so in some ways grief is never done. I’ve talked to many people that have experienced significant periods of grief and it is clear that the one-year mark tends to be viewed as a disappointing milestone. Many consciously or subconsciously assumed that they would feel better adjusted after a year had gone by. It was a reasonable assumption as they had gotten through all the “first” holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. What they often found was that the second year (and the second set of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries) were even more bitter because they had expected to feel better by then. They also found themselves with less support as people had assumed they’d gotten them through the hardest part already. Make a commitment to stay very present and supportive for a minimum of two years (and likely even longer).

What would you add?

 

Greenfireworks

This post is not for those of you that have a New Year’s resolution in mind already. It is meant for people that do not plan to make a resolution, yet still want to reflect on and shape the year ahead. If that is you, I suggest making a pledge instead. A New Year’s pledge reflects the beliefs and commitments that will guide your next year of life. Pledges don’t prescribe specific actions, but they do convey specific intentions. Below is an example of a New Year’s pledge.  This example is especially helpful if you hope to serve more (or better) next year. See you in 2015!

Sample New Year’s Pledge

“This year, I will pay close attention to the things I enjoy and make me feel alive. I will take notice of those things especially if I do them better than most. I will properly recognize those things as God-given gifts. I will not diminish my gifts with false humility nor by trivializing them to be merely individual passions, hobbies or personality traits. I will see my gifts as rare and special and given to me on purpose. I will frequently remind myself that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I will honor God by finding ways to use my unique gifts to help others and to better this world. My good intentions will result in tangible actions and not just thoughts or words. I will use my gifts more this year than I used them last year.”

Please feel free to share this sample pledge broadly and to share your pledge with those you trust. Sharing increases your commitment. Happy New Year!

What are you pledging in 2015?

Christmaslist

“Do you remember me?

 I sat upon your knee

 I wrote to you

 With childhood fantasies”

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a favorite Christmas carol every year. I pretend that I select this song myself, but really the song selects me. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I fire up my holiday playlists and wait to see what song I start singing in the shower or while standing in an elevator. This year that song is definitely “My Grown Up Christmas List.”

 “Well, I’m all grown up now

 And still need help somehow

 I’m not a child

 But my heart still can dream”

For many people, this holiday season is bittersweet. In the midst of a season known for peace and love we are bombarded with grief, sorrow, disappointment and even rage. For some they are dealing with personal tragedies and heartaches. Many others are fighting injustices. Even more are struggling with the painful loneliness that accompanies a guarded or closed heart.

“So here’s my lifelong wish

 My grown up Christmas list

 Not for myself

 But for a world in need”

I’ve been questioning the best way to celebrate my Christmas this year. Can I ignore those in pain and dive blindly into gift giving and decorating? Should I condemn the holiday festivities I love as trivial in a world with much more serious problems?

“But heaven only knows

 That packages and bows

 Can never heal

 A hurting human soul”

Yet, I need holiday spirit this year more than ever. I need to remember what we are actually celebrating. Christmas marks the start of Jesus’ life, but as we all know, that life was not easy. It is a story with birth, enormous pain, death and ultimately renewed life. I need the reminder that our world can and will heal as we learn to love and serve each other better.  I need to be reminded to celebrate the start of change even if the journey is just beginning. And most importantly, I need the reminder that there is a divine order that goes beyond my own understanding.

 “No more lives torn apart

 That wars would never start

 And time would heal all hearts

 And everyone would have a friend

 And right would always win

 And love would never end”

This year, it’s helped me to focus on what I’d add to my grown-up Christmas list. I’m celebrating believing that those things will one day arrive. Are you ready to celebrate the holidays? Is your heart open to the promise of healing and the promise of change? Are you inspired to serve?

What’s on your grown-up Christmas list?

 

RealThanksgiving

If you only read your Facebook feed you might forget about the Thanksgiving dinners held in the shadow of grief or in the aftermath of divorce. Television commercials seem to forget about the lonely Thanksgivings, the sad Thanksgivings and the angry Thanksgivings happening all around us. Life is not about constant happy moments and there is a good chance you have or will experience a tough Thanksgiving in your lifetime. Which presents an opportunity to “keep it real” with others that are having a difficult time this week.

As you experience the holiday of gratitude, remember to reach out to those dealing with life trials you’ve faced and overcome.  Maybe they’re making the same mistakes you’ve made. Maybe they’re struggling with the same grief process you’ve had to make peace with. For me, I’m reflecting on the times I failed myself. I’m reflecting on the times I failed to be who I hoped I was and the shame that came along with that. I’m inspired to tell someone else at that same point of despair that I understand. I’ve been where they are and the pain is not permanent.

If there is one way I’d encourage you to serve this week, it would be to lovingly open up to someone going through a challenge you uniquely understand.  Turn your gratitude into an opportunity to serve.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Thanksgiving pie

This is the time of year when family recipes are anxiously awaiting their holiday arrival. Usually there are several family favorites that stand out on any Thanksgiving menu. For us it is my mother’s sweet potato pie and her baked macaroni and cheese. These recipes require a lot of labor – peeling sweet potatoes and grating cheese until our arms go numb! But we press on. We’re certain that those dishes are worth the extra effort.

I read a quote recently by Brené Brown in which she said “Love requires tenacity and grit. It’s work. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.” This quote can almost sound scary, but it isn’t. It is just making clear that the ingredients of love are not things easily prepared. Sweet potatoes don’t peel themselves and the ingredients of love won’t come to you without effort.

Preparing Love’s Ingredients

  1. Vulnerability: We are starting here because vulnerability is where love begins and how it deepens. Vulnerability takes courage and it takes action. You have to dedicate time and effort to discovering and expressing your true feelings, dreams, passions and fears. You have to build the courage to show someone who you really are (not who you think they want you to be). In doing so, you bravely face potential rejection and/or judgment. Not an easy ingredient to prepare but absolutely essential in the recipe of love.
  2. Respect: Many people think respect is a feeling you have for someone. As an ingredient of love, respect is more about your actions than your feelings. Take a moment to think of someone you respect. Ask yourself, do you allow them to get their full thought out before you start speaking? Do you value their opinions enough to let it change your mind? Do you value their judgment enough to let them make choices without any of your input? If your answers to these questions are consistently “No” you may want to evaluate whether your actions are matching your feelings. Love requires that you “show” respect to those you love not that you simply “feel” it.
  3. Service: Service is all about action; it’s about work. That might not be sexy, but it is the backbone of love. You cannot love someone and be unwilling to do things for them (big and small). Regularly evaluate if your actions are helping and supporting the people you truly love.
  4. Gratitude: One of the many benefits of love is that it reminds us of our value as human beings. When someone loves us, they give us the reminder that we are special and we are worthy. When we love someone else, we are to be actively reminding them of their value. To do that task, we have to cultivate and express our gratitude for them and the things they do for us. Is there anyone you love that doesn’t know how much you value them? Tell them today.

How did I do?

Are these the four most important ingredients in the recipe of love?

FallThanks

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I have to admit it; I’m one of those people that doesn’t wait until after Thanksgiving to start my holiday season. I’m singing carols and thinking about Christmas decorations already. I know it’s wrong since Thanksgiving hasn’t passed yet. I just can’t seem to help myself. I know that Thanksgiving deserves better.

Thanksgiving is a tremendous holiday marked with amazing food and thoughts of gratitude and community. If you want to put the spirit of Thanksgiving into action right now, below are 70 simple ways to get started. Why wait?

70 Ways to Live Your Gratitude

  1. Send encouragement to someone taking care of an aging parent.
  2. Rake your neighbor’s leaves.
  3. Donate coats and blankets you won’t use often.
  4. Register to be an organ donor.
  5. Be bold enough to ask for help. Let someone else experience the gift of giving.
  6. Get to know someone on a deeper level. Who did they love? What did they lose? What matters most to them?
  7. Be a connector. Introduce two people with mutual interests or career pursuits.
  8. Multiply the impact of your donations by joining a giving circle.
  9. Share this post to give others ideas on gratitude in action.
  10. Brighten a teacher’s day. Send in an unsolicited treat or thank you.
  11. Treat your spouse to an unexpected display of passion.
  12. Do online research about the distinction between charity and philanthropy.
  13. Encourage someone to share their faith with you in a place where it is normally kept quiet (work, school, etc).
  14. Grant someone the freedom to parent differently than you without judgment.
  15. Bring a neighbor an unexpected gift.
  16. Register to vote or correct your voting information.
  17. Offer an elderly pet owner peace of mind by suggesting you care for their beloved pet whenever they are unable.
  18. Choose to share something shameful or painful in your past if it will help another feel less alone.
  19. Rally around an acquaintance going through a difficult time. Sometimes it’s the most unexpected acts of love that touch us the most.
  20. Act! Move beyond sympathetic thoughts. Vow to do one small thing (donate, advocate, etc.) to address a problem that seems hopeless.
  21. Cut a neighbor’s grass.
  22. Donate school supplies.
  23. Offer support to a grieving soul long after the funeral.
  24. Share a piece of wisdom that only comes with age.
  25. Make a call and check on an elderly family member.
  26. Laugh long and hard. Laugh loud enough for others to hear you.
  27. Give someone a gift you made yourself.
  28. Say no. Knowing you can set limits will give you the confidence to serve more.
  29. Take a walk with a loved one. It serves the body and soul.
  30. Admit you’re biased. We all are. Facing that we have biases (racial, class, religion, etc) helps us to better address our issues and to serve more sincerely.
  31. Loan someone a book you love.
  32. Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
  33. Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
  34. Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
  35. Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
  36. Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
  37. Give someone more credit than they deserve.
  38. Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
  39. Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
  40. Fight indifference. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
  41. Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
  42. Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
  43. Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
  44. Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
  45. Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
  46. Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
  47. Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
  48. Listen carefully. Many people yearn to be heard.
  49. Thank a healthcare provider for their service.
  50. Tell someone a joke.
  51. Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
  52. Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
  53. Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
  54. Pray for someone.
  55. Teach someone something. Anything.
  56. Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
  57. Give someone you love your undivided attention.
  58. Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
  59. Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
  60. Hug someone.
  61. Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
  62. Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
  63. Leave change in a vending machine.
  64. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  65. Thank a solider for their service.
  66. Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
  67. Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
  68. Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
  69. Serve this service blog. Send via email or social media one idea to quickly put the spirit of service into action.
  70. If you love them, tell them.

This list has been building all year.

Which ones have you done already?

Which ones do you plan to try next?

Birdsfeed

Last week, I was talking to a friend about the rare and remarkable village she has created around her family. She has several friends and neighbors that play an active role in making her life work – like picking up her son from school when work meetings run long. If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance that you are very willing to help out others and be the “giver”. But are you willing to ask for help yourself? Are you willing to be the “taker”?

Being a “taker” is a very important role in building your own sense of community and encouraging service as a way of life. Asking for help gives others opportunities to be the “giver”. And by being the “taker” you give your relationships opportunities to grow. You set the tone of support and community. It is not the giver that starts the chain of love. It’s the taker.

Many people struggle with the vulnerability of being takers. This is just natural. But if you’re brave enough to be a taker, here’s how to get started.

    1. Ask anyway. Start with a task you could use help on, but can easily take care of yourself if support is unavailable. For example, ask a neighbor to get your mail when you’re away instead of having it held at the post office. This has to be a conscious choice to ask for help even when another more self-sufficient option is clearly available. Don’t miss the opportunity to build community. Consciously, be the taker.
    2. Dare to be in someone’s debt. Be brave enough to owe someone. It sounds like a small thing, but fear of being in someone’s debt is why many of us never ask for help. Push through the fear and don’t obsess about how or when you will repay debts. Confidently, be the taker.
    3. Share service. It feels good when you know you’ve helped someone. Let someone else have that feeling too. If you think of it, always wanting to be the giver is a bit selfish because it hogs all the positive rewards that come from service. Kindly, be the taker.

 

Are you brave enough to be the taker?

Light

Imagine this:

Scene 1: It’s nighttime and the lights are completely off in your house. You turn on a flashlight to navigate your way to the kitchen. The light from the flashlight prominently cuts through the darkness. There is no missing that the flashlight is on.

Scene 2: It’s daytime. The windows are uncovered and bright light is shining throughout the entire house. You turn on a flashlight to navigate your way to the kitchen. The light from the flashlight seamlessly blends with the bright light of the room. You can barely tell that the flashlight is on.

In which scenario is the flashlight playing a more important role?

BUT what if…

What if the goal was to see the clearest path to the kitchen?

In which scenario would that be easier to do?

What if you needed to know what color the flashlight was?

In which scenario might you have noticed?

 

These two scenes are meant to mirror our experience with the people we choose to love and the company we keep. We may feel more important in Scene 1, but we thrive more in Scene 2. Imagine that you are the flashlight in Scene 1 and your close friends represent the darkness in the room. When your friends are down in life, down on themselves, or generally a downer to be with “their darkness” allows your light to be much more noticeable. You’re the bright spot in a dark room and that might feel good at times. You’re much more significant in this scenario.

In Scene 2, imagine you’re the flashlight surrounded by close friends that are succeeding in their life pursuits, growing more confident every day, or generally wonderful to be around. In the company of this group, your light is less distinct. You blend in even when shining your brightest.

As servers, it is important to be there for people in hard times. But it’s also important to surround ourselves with positive people and to know how to celebrate their successes. At times their achievements may surpass what we are destined to accomplish. Still we know that our lives are important just the same. We even have additional impact by being part of their journey. I’m blessed to have many “bright lights” in my life. I’d be lying if I said I was never intimidated by them. I am because they’re amazing. Still, I’d rather stand in their shadows than standout in a dark room. I know it is the power of their lights that will show me the most beautiful version of myself and my clearest path to service.

Are you comfortable standing in bright light?

Fall Leaves

I celebrated a birthday last week so I was off from posting taking a mini-vacation. I’m glad to be back. I used my time to think about next steps for the blog and my life in general. Milestones (like a birthday) often give us a nudge to examine the momentum in our lives. They often inspire us to inspect our path in the pursuit of a uniquely meaningful life. And make changes if we need to.

We may take a rare moment to ask ourselves:

  • Who do I want to be?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • Who do I want to come with me?

Milestones give us a reason to ponder things that don’t come up in everyday life. For some people they use their birthday to trigger this. For many others they wait until January and create a New Year’s resolution. They may resolve to get healthier. They may resolve to offer forgiveness more freely (or at least try to). They may resolve to volunteer their time to a cause they believe in. Most resolutions will promote a service lifestyle. I believe that any goal that makes you a better you, makes you more equipped to serve.

I just want you to consider setting these goals in September instead of January. And here’s why:

September vs. January

  1. Reflecting on your life requires emotional energy. You likely have more emotional energy now in September than you will in January. Love and acceptance replenish our emotional bank accounts. If you’re like many people you spent more extended time with family and friends in the social summer months than at one-off holiday events. This has probably given you more emotional energy.
  2. Setting achievable goals requires creativity. You are likely more creative now in September than you will be in January. Playtime and having fun is essential to maintaining your creative mind. So you’re likely to be much more creative after the summer than after your hectic holiday schedule. A creative mind is vital when finding new ways to fit goals into your life. Finding space in an already full schedule is rarely easy. You may have to get creative.
  3. Sticking to goals requires physical stamina. You likely have more stamina now in September than you will have in January. This one is just a no-brainer. When was the last time the holidays left you feeling refreshed? On the other hand, hopefully you were able to relax at a few cookouts and maybe even a summer retreat.
  4. Nature will inspire you. You likely find the natural surroundings of September more inspiring than you will in January. There are reasons to see beauty in every month, but few get inspired by the cold, dreary days of January. On the other hand, let’s think about September. It’s a popular wedding month for a reason. September ushers in mild temperatures with refreshing breezes. And if you’re geographically lucky, you may also get to enjoy beautiful trees lighting up with vibrant colors. Seeing the beautiful things that God has created reminds you of the beauty inside of yourself. But, are you letting that beauty out?

So what do you think?

Is September a better time to make a resolution?

Love kiwi

There’s something magical about close friends talking with nothing in particular they need to cover. The conversation is free to dart all around and uncover new ideas. Yesterday, I was able to enjoy one of those unstructured phone calls with a friend while she waited at the airport. Somehow the conversation landed on the concept of falling in love and whether it’s possible to feel those feelings without a romantic relationship. I believe you can find many of those feelings through service. Here’s how:

  1. Service (like falling in love) deepens your own self-worth. It is important that I differentiate “falling in love” with “being in love”. Falling in love is more about how YOU feel than anything you’re giving to the other person. Falling in love is you appreciating someone else for appreciating you. Being in love is when you start the real work of loving them. Service definitely requires that you do work for others, but there’s a very personal impact as well. Service reminds you that you make a difference and that you’re valuable. Self-worth makes you feel safe and maybe even a bit invincible. This is similar to how you feel when falling in love.
  2. Following a service passion (like falling in love) requires deep vulnerability. Letting someone into your heart is extremely vulnerable. It is scary and dangerous, but it also feels great. It feels great because deep down you want to be truly known for the beautiful imperfect person you are. You may fear vulnerability, but you also crave it. You have to bring down your walls to let love in. It feels scary and exhilarating, but it also feels natural. Being open is our natural state. Service inspires the exhilaration of vulnerability as well. You have to care to act. You have to act to serve. Caring forces you to open up emotionally to let compassion in.
  3. Service (like falling in love) helps you grow and discover the things that you and you alone can offer this world. When falling in love, you see a magnificent reflection of yourself in your lover’s eyes. Finally you feel seen and known. And I don’t mean known for the small details that have made up your life. I mean known for the things that uniquely make you a glorious being. I’m talking about your perfect combination of wit, humor, strength, weakness, intellect, spirituality, etc. This will include other attributes like how adventurous, sensitive or faith-filled you are. When you’re falling in love your special God given gifts rise to the surface and become more pronounced. It’s like your lover has held a mirror up that shows you more than just physical beauty. This mirror shows you, “you.” It shows you the person you always knew was in there, but you may not have seen for a long while. And you’ve missed this version of yourself…a lot. Service is a similar mirror. It gives you a place to bring your gifts and uniqueness out of the shadows and place them on full display. It gives you a place to see and be your glorious self.

Would you like to fall in love again and again?